Tuesday, November 8, 2016
The Best News About Election Day
Eight years ago on election day I woke up with a fresh cold sore blooming on my lower lip and the early tremors of a panic attack bubbling up to the surface. I was working for the Department of Health and Human Services back then, and certain a shift in the administration would mean the end of my career. (I was right.) Similarly, though with graver consequence, Cory was on staff with a United States Congressman. It seemed our lives hung in the balance of a system that was losing its mind. Gone were the years when we had ordered Chinese take-out and watched each state claim its color as if it were all a high-stakes sporting event. It had become personal. After all, in some small way, we were part of the machine.
Each morning for weeks, maybe months, I scoured the polls from my chippy blue desk tucked inside our farmhouse. Back then, my friends voted in unison and the world around us was comfortably small. My first two little ones played near me while I stared out the window at harvested fields and picked at my lip. They banged wooden spoons against the plastic drum, pretended the laundry basket was a pirate ship, served me molded plastic peas on a pink plastic saucer. They were too young to care, so I cared on their behalf. I held them, kissed their faces, and worried fervently for their futures. They were too young to care, but I would teach them to care. They were Americans afforded great liberties. In time, they would understand the mantle of responsibility placed upon them, like it or not, to ensure the faithfulness of our great country. They would be special. Exceptional. Well-versed in political jargon and bearing a keen understanding that the government worked for and belonged to them. Failing all else, one day they would lose sleep for their country as unto the Lord. They would rise on a November morning, see the trees nearly stripped of their leaves, and believe the world was just a day away from ruin. This would be their burden, a hill worthy of a certain kind of death, and they would be faithful. It would be the very least they could do.
The years have changed me.
This morning, walking home from dropping the kids off at school, I was struck by how beautiful the trees still are. I thought last week was my neighborhood's finest hour, but here it is, still hanging on. It's election day, the culmination of months of our great country putting on a different kind of show. Standing beneath the elm tree while the kids filed inside, I asked a friend of mine if he would be voting today. "No way. The only thing I care about is the school board, and it wouldn't be worth my time to walk all the way over there just for that." Somehow, I'm still stunned by the ways my life is so much easier than the lives of most of my neighbors. I'm not sure I'll ever stop taking for granted basic things like a home where I can't be evicted, a van that takes me wherever I need to go, and the belief that I belong fully and completely, just as I actually am, in this world.
It's all pretty bleak, I suppose, pretty gloomy; or at least it should be, though the trees tell a different story. The trees and the sky and the men in orange vests sweeping my streets this morning are saying there's hope to be found, and work to be done. What they're trying to tell us, if we're paying attention, is that on this high-cycle news day, the very best news will show up in a hush.
On Sunday Cory filled the pulpit at church. For being a chaplain, this sort of thing doesn't happen as often as you might think. He moves around the county and does quite a bit of speaking, but preaching is a different beast. As the wife, it felt like a pretty big deal. As a struggling, often-faithless congregant of a church on the brink of either death or impending revival, it felt like a fine last hurrah. I've been telling myself that sort of thing for a solid two years now. Because for every step we take toward redemption there has been at least one that brings us closer to the inevitable end, and I don't know if the steps are linear, or if they even track a straight line. It has felt like walking in circles, into the desert and back out again. Or are we out? Because my throat sure feels dry. Our friends are tired of hearing about the sand and the mirages. We're sick to death of our own voices, very tired of complaining again only to circle back and explain why it still matters very much that we stay. We lost our "audience" at least ten rant-sessions ago. No one understands at this point, so why are we still talking? Why are we still here?
I could hear the piano pounding chords from the back door as we blew into the building our customary two minutes late. As I got closer to the sanctuary, I heard the voices of the saints. I climbed the steps, shook a few hands, and rounded the corner.
The pews, usually only a third-full on a good day, were up to a solid half. Across the room sat two familiar faces I hadn't seen in almost a year and it was all I could do not to sprint to them. Amid the usual sea of white curls were new faces, tattooed faces, smiling young faces, improbable-family faces.
We sang from our hymnals, and they kept showing up, each weighed down uniquely, bearing different shades of the same pain yet reminding me of the God in whose image each of us were made.
We spoke in unison, we prayed, we shook hands and hugged.
I passed a plate holding nothing but one quarter and one dime.
We heard from God, who promises His grip is tighter than ours. We lit candles, brushed tears from our eyes, noticed the light bouncing off each other's faces while pony-tailed men with Mt. Dew bottles traipsed out for a smoke then back in again. Collectively, we dared to believe half of the battle of church is in stubbornly showing up and that once we do, every moment within the communion of the walls belongs deeply and personally to us.
The best news about today is that it's all a bit irrelevant, though I would have silently rebuked you in the name of Jesus eight years ago if you'd told me the same.
It's background noise at best, a distraction from our clearest purpose, which doesn't change at all, not ever, even in the face of political maelstrom and a deep Constitutional despair.
The best news is, tomorrow, no matter how today ends, we get to return to the business of being the church in the midst of this jacked-up world. Make no mistake - there exists no reality where we are more or less troubled tomorrow than we are at this moment. Our distance from God will be no further, and He will also be every bit as near.
What will continue to matter most is God's kingdom crashing into earth and our willingness to catch and release his very good news. We can rub the backs of the middle school boys who are afraid of Trump's Wall. We can look kindly into the eyes of the Evangelicals afraid of Hillary.
Because our first love is not legislation and our deepest loyalty is not to this country, only because our citizenship is born solely and significantly in Christ, we get to keep reflecting his mercy and incarnating his love which will not detour around the pain of a heart-sick world. Where others wring their hands and worry, we will march gladly into the thick of, where the real wounds throb and bleed, where we ourselves are tender and torn. We will tend to one another, and allow our own weary spirits to be kissed by hope.
We get to be the good news to all the sons who have been herded, often unjustly, into prisons, then let loose bearing the scars of our own sins, their right to vote relinquished forever. We get to remain the good news to the neighbor so far at the margins that she is sure her voice in any election doesn't register above a raspy whisper. Why bother?
The very best news on this puzzling, shocking, heart-breaking election day is that we get to double our efforts tomorrow, no matter what, and fight like a lover for all of life. Where we have paid lip-service to the feel-good, "come as you are" Christian tagline, we are given the opportunity to actually be worthy of any addict or felon or welfare mom we are lucky enough to have among us for a moment.
Tomorrow and every day after, we get to live as though Heaven really is our prize.
We have seen enough over the past six months to understand in the marrow of our bones and at the center of our Christ-dwelling spirits what justice and righteousness is not. We have stood close enough to these fires to realize we were already burning with self-preservation, already ablaze with judgment and apathy.
Sometimes in order to see how far we have to fall, we have to stand at the edge of the cliff and peer over it with our stomachs in our throats and our knees trembling.
Tomorrow, we will take a step back, turn, and sprint in the opposite direction.
Thy kingdom come.
They will be done.
On earth as it is in Heaven.